Monday, August 10, 2015

Afghanistan SITREP

As we look to just a few months left of the 2015 fighting season, let's check in with Afghanistan. I wish it were getting more attention.

We can ignore it's progress, lack of it, or the consequences of failure - but it will not ignore us.

Via Gary Owen at Lawfareblog;
Thanks to advances by the Taliban in Faryab and Kunduz, influential politicians like Rashid Dostum (currently Ghani’s vice president) and Atta Noor (the powerful governor of Balkh province) have been pretty vocal in their thinking that Afghan forces alone can’t get the job done; that to tip the balance means more troops from somewhere—either the Americans (not out of the question completely, but unlikely), or some kind of militia. Since today’s anti-Taliban militia could be tomorrow’s coup attempt, it lays some troubling groundwork for widening existing divides in the country that the United States had hoped the Ghani/Abdullah deal would help bridge. Unless they can manage to bring the security situation that’s deteriorating faster than Iggy Azalea’s career back under control, Afghan troops could have some new bosses very soon. Their current performance doesn’t inspire much hope.

Watts and Mann state that “no one is certain how the ANSF will perform as the U.S. and international drawdown proceeds” and argue that the forces are “passably capable” and “resilient.”

Actually, it’s pretty clear how those forces will perform. In a word? Badly.

Since the Afghans assumed control of the country’s security in 2014, more civilians have been killed, more soldiers have died, more Afghan troops have deserted than ever before, and security forces are still torturing one-third of their detainees. This is the force Watts and Mann describe as “passably capable” and “resilient.” If by “passably capable” they mean “doesn’t torture too many people,” then sure, I suppose they are “passably capable,” but I think we might want to aim just a bit higher.

According to the Americans, civilian casualties as a result of ground engagements between the Afghans and insurgents were up eight percent for the first three months of 2015 when compared to the same period in 2014. In June, Afghan Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qadam Shah Shaheem told his troops that using artillery and conducting night raids against the insurgents was just fine, and no one would be prosecuted as a result. Since most engagements occur among the population when one is countering an insurgency, this change in the rules of engagement means more innocent civilians are going to die as the result of actions by Afghan security forces.
...
An American solution to Afghanistan’s problems faces the struggles of a dwindling security force to keep the Taliban at bay as they strike from sanctuaries in Pakistan, a government on the verge of collapse, and large numbers of civilians being victimized by their own government. And that’s without the growing threat of the Islamic State. In an alternate-reality Afghanistan, civilians aren’t dying in greater numbers, the government isn’t on the verge of collapse, and the return on foreign investment is staggering. The Afghans would love it—because that’s the country the Americans promised them.

The reality is that that Afghanistan’s future, while grim, is still better than it was. There is cause for cautious optimism. That does not mean that we shouldn’t be painfully honest about what’s happening in Afghanistan. Given the sacrifices made since 9/11, it’s tempting to do otherwise. But doing so means ignoring challenges the country faces, and the decisions about its future the Americans still need to make.

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